Yin en Yang, English version

If you would ask me about the greatest difference between Chinese and Western ideology, I’d answer you that Chinese people think in terms of yin and yang and Western people in terms of good and evil. You could compare it to yes and no. Is yes good and no evil? It depends, you’d say. Exactly. Yin and yang isn’t about labeling people or stuff in terms of good and evil. For the Chinese, standards and values that are equally applicable to all times, individuals and places are unexistent. One might reason that this attitude makes them perhaps more resilient.

Firstly, Chinese people aren’t afraid of the unpleasant. What is negative for one person might become positive for someone else. Look at the current recession for instance. The word ‘crisis’ refers in Chinese both to ‘danger’ and ‘chance’. Think of the unresponsible behavior in the banking and financial world and the worldwide catastrophic consequences. To reform the economic system however, the recession is the perfect excuse. It is not without reason that China’s economy isn’t performing that bad, in spite of stagnations on international markets.

Secondly, Chinese people are very cautious when things go too smoothly. Yin and yang never stand still and interchange continously. A recession might offer new opportunities, but danger as well. That is, I presume, one of the reasons why China didn’t spend all of its profits during its 30 year economic boom. Now that recession rules, they have sufficient means to take over shares and stocks of national companies, buy U.S. obligations and make other long term investments. No wonder the Tao saying. “I’m not happy when I’m doing fine, nor unhappy when things go less”.

Thirdly. They don’t like judging, as judging is the result of observation from one perspective. Change the angle and judgements will shift. For instance, a malfunctioning immune system might be a curse for your body and personal well-being, but is a true blessing for virusses as it enables them to procreate. That is why the Chinese don’t mind other people’s business when telling right from wrong. Every judgement goes with a specific situation and other people’s visions will only cause interference.

Fourthly. They don’t fear the negative, they even search for it. Take China’s national savings into consideration. Do you really think that the Chinese didn’t want to take part in all the welfare that was created during times of economic prosperity? They’re people too, also enjoying good food and far travels, the further the better. Nevertheless, they usually make a humble impression (yin), however rich or powerful they might be (yang). Why? Because they are aware that yang can become yin before you know it. Which would imply that they would be forced to become humble and to be forced is always unpleasant. In this way they kill two birds with one stone: They prevent being forced to become humble and they enforce respect at once, as modesty is a human virtue.

Fifthly, they believe that yin nor yang is beneficial on its own, a balance between the two is the perfect state. Too much poverty will make life sour, but too much money will only cause discontentment; working too hard will turn men into machines, but partying day and night will cause boredom; judging too easily will cause damage but no judgement at all brings no solutions.

My question now is: Is there really a difference between Chinese and Western reasoning? Not really, I guess. Yin and yang also in Europe rule our thoughts. Think about the Bible’s “Don’t judge and you won’t be judged” and other sayings such as “Pride will have a fall”. Also in the Western world we know that balance is the key to everything. But peeping at different cultures won’t do no harm I think. Not in order to learn, but rather to become conscious and grateful again of what is unique and valuable in our own society and therefore overlooked too often because it has become obvious. You can call it yin and yang, but you might as well call it common sense. It just depends on the name of the game.

© Lulu Wang, The Hague, Holland, 2009 English translation: Sara Engelen
Fotograaf: Hanneke Veenman-Back.